We’re reading the same paper, but we’re getting different messages.

Earlier I posted about an interesting paper by Jankó and colleagues in Geoforum about similarities and differences in citation patterns between the IPCC and the NIPCC.  It turns out I wasn’t the only one interested in it.

It was pointed out to me that Judith Curry, Watts Up With That and the Heartland Institute have all written posts about the paper.  Their key takeaway message seems to come from the fact that the citations between the two are similar, and that Jankó and co-authors include language that indicates that reflexively dismissing ‘skeptic’ arguments does a disservice to scientific advancement.  This does an injustice to Jankó and colleagues because it misrepresents what I believe is very interesting work into the underpinnings of scientific inquiry, particularly around climate change.  Much of the support Bast and Curry see in the paper comes from a single sentence, associated with a citation from a 2013 paper by Mayanna Lahsen.

My reading of the sentence:

But when we take the contrarian arguments seriously, there is a chance to bring together the differing views and knowledge claims of the disputing ‘interpretive communities’ (Lahsen, 2013b).

Is not to say that we need to accept their arguments as alternate fact, but to say that the reflexive dismissal of contrarian viewpoints limits our ability to engage and understand the contrarian viewpoint.  The paper itself “Anatomy of dissent: A cultural analysis of climate skepticism” certainly shows little support of skepticism. Mayanna Lahsen has done some excellent work understanding climate change denial (skepticism?) from a sociological/anthropological viewpoint.  Indeed, her arguments in the cited reference point more to the fact that scientists need to work harder to engage with skeptics in an effort to avoid cultural backlash.  She is not arguing that skeptics pose acceptable alternative models to anthropogenic climate change.  Take this sentence for “Anatomy of dissent” (the same paper cited by Jankó and colleagues):

To promote their agenda, powerful backlash actors have frequently adopted deceptive strategies to create the fictitious appearance of broad grassroots and scientific support.

Does this in any way suggest that we ought to be taking contrarian arguments seriously because they are valid?  No, we are being asked to take them seriously because by understanding their backgrounds and motivations we can begin to address the causes of backlash against climate science, and move forward toward solutions.

I argued in my last post that just because the IPCC and NIPCC use the same citations, they are not equally acceptable models for global climate and climate change.  Interestingly, just because Bast, Curry and I read the same paper doesn’t mean we came to the same conclusions either.

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Assistant scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Studying paleoecology and the challenges of large data synthesis.

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